What To Do When a Wound Won’t Heal …
We've all done it ... purchased that pair of shoes, with the extra high heel that requires a slight shuffle to walk in, or bought the latest tennis shoe that is not exactly made for playing tennis in ... but they sure look great on our feet!
When making this sacrifice for the sake of fashion one might assume she is compromising a little comfort, but other than that this choice may seem relatively harmless.
But what if that pair of shoes caused a small blister that grew larger, until it turned into a wound, or worse, a wound that would not heal?
Suddenly, what was once a tiny blister has grown to impact your everyday activities.
This is precisely the situation in which Colleen Henline of Redding found herself in last November.
"I wore a shoe that left a little blister on my ankle. I'm a nurse, so I naturally treated it. But it didn't go away. I consulted my general doctor and he treated it, as well. After a treatment it would start to heal and then stop and end up worse than before," said Henline.
"I talked about it a lot with my nurse friends. I am on my feet all day so it was making things difficult. We tried everything that would usually work, but nothing seemed to heal it. I've seen a lot of wounds in my work on patients that can't seem to heal. I kept thinking I was being dramatic, but a wound takes on a whole new meaning when its on your own body."
Henline's doctor recommended she make an appointment at Mercy Medical Center Redding's (MMCR) Wound Healing and Hyperbaric Medicine Center. It was there that Henline discovered her tiny blister was now a painful "Venous Ulcer" or an open sore that would not heal.
Why is it that some blisters, cuts or scraps come and go and others seem to linger only to progressively get worse?
"Chronic wounds often represent, or are the result of significant underlying health problems, including diabetes, peripheral arterial disease, chronic venous insufficiency, lymphedema, underlying infection, and sometimes malignancy," said Dr. Douglas G. Hatter, Vascular Surgeon and Medical Director of the Wound Healing and Hyperbaric Medicine Center.
"It is because of these reasons and others that wounds sometimes struggle to heal."
How do you know when to worry, and when to let a blister or scrape run its course?
"Chronic wounds are defined as those being present for 30 days or longer," Dr. Hatter said.
"These are the wounds we see most commonly at our center, ones that have been evaluated and treated elsewhere and just aren't healing. It's our job to find out why, and address the underlying problems in addition to providing advanced, state-of-the-art treatments to the wound itself to maximize chances for recovery."
Healing a wound is often a joint effort. The doctor provides the appropriate treatment, but it is also important for patients to monitor their wounds and not hesitate to make an appointment should a wound show no signs of healing after 30 days.
"Much of the success of a patient's treatment depends on the patient," said Cindy Buhler, Director of Mercy's Wound Center.
"We will count on a patient to follow directions carefully and watch the wound's healing progress closely. Patients will learn about caring for their wound at home, including how to change dressings and how to protect themselves from further injuries."
Henline began receiving treatments every Tuesday for three weeks.
"After I completed my treatments I was told to give it about two weeks but after only one week I was healed," Henline said.
Minor cuts or scrapes can be treated at home to help prevent infection. Tips can be found on Mercy Medical Center's website redding.mercy.org. To access this information, click on the following link: http://redding.mercy.org/Medical_Services/189339.
Treatments for chronic wounds will vary and be recommended by your doctor.
At Mercy's Wound Center it offers both traditional and advanced healing techniques and procedures including hyperbaric oxygen therapies with the use of HBO or Hyperbaric Oxygen Chambers that surround the patient with 100 percent oxygen at higher-than-normal atmospheric pressure in sessions, or "dives" that last 90-minutes to two hours. This increases the amount of oxygen in the patient's blood and allows red blood cells to pass more easily through the plasma into the wounds to heal them from the inside out.
Introduced in the mid '60s, HBO chambers have evolved to treat patients who suffer from diabetic ulcers, pressure ulcers, infections, compromised skin grafts and flaps and wounds that haven't healed within 30 days.
Weighing more than 1 ton each, the HBO chambers resemble a reclining bed that's encased in a clear acrylic shell nearly a yard in diameter.
"Patients can listen to music or watch movies on televisions mounted above the chamber while remaining in constant contact with those outside the chamber through an intercom and private handset," said Buhler. "The only physical sensation resulting from the treatment is a slight pressure on the eardrum, such as typically felt when a plane lands, as the air in the chamber is compressed."
For many north state residents, having this technology available locally has reduced travel time and allowed patients to continue living their lives with less disruption.
"This sort of expertise and technology is often found in larger cities," Dr. Hatter said.
"We are very fortunate to have this right here in Redding. Often times we see patients with wounds that have been there for months, and sometimes years, and it truly has a great impact on their life. Having a center dedicated to the treatment of hard-to-heal wounds, a center that has an extremely dedicated and hard-working staff, advanced wound-care techniques and hyperbaric oxygen chambers for healing the most difficult of wounds, is something our community has needed for a long time."
For those currently struggling with a hard-to-heal wound, Henline offers some words of wisdom.
Megan Loveless is Mercy Medical Center's Public Relations Coordinator. She may be emailed at Megan.Loveless@chw.edu. For more information about the Mercy Wound Healing & Hyperbaric Medicine Center, call (530) 245-4801or log onto redding.mercy.org.
Photos by Michael Burke.
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